On Wednesday April 18th at the Oregon State Correctional Institution, University of Oregon professors Peter Laufer and Steven Shankman initiated the 2012 conference of Conflict Sensitive Reporting.

Professor Laufer began by introducing the concept of conflict sensitive reporting to the 24 Inside-Out students.  He explained that he is currently teaching a class on conflict sensitive reporting; conflict sensitive reporting is attempting a new approach to journalism which allows the writer to acknowledge his or her own personal biases, but also allowing to garner as much information and attempt to understand the grey area of a news story.

Conflict sensitive reporting can be used in matters ranging from Eugene’s debate over the expansion of the EMX as well as topics as serious as the violent conflict in Syria. 

The inside students immediately delved into their personal experiences with insensitive reporting regarding prisons and prisoners.  The media has its own agenda and has portrayed prisons in a certain light

Professor Laufer sat in on an Inside-Out class to observe and report on this unique class experience.  He plans to write an op-ed piece on the class and his experience in the classroom.   

The class itself is centered on the novel Life and Fate written by Vasily Grossman who was a conflict reporter for the Red Star during WWII.  The class and the two professors what it means to have observed the type of horrors Grossman had seen and the ways in which it affected his writing and his reporting.

The whole class mulled over the meaning of conflict sensitive reporting, Professor Laufer pointed out that while teaching this class he is making it up as he goes along, everyday he is getting closer to a definition of what it means to be a conflict sensitive reporter.

The conference will take place May 17th-19th at the University of Oregon, including a panel on “Encountering the Other”, Friday, May18th 1:30-3:30 in Gerlinger Hall. 



Earth Day is coming up this Sunday and the University of Oregon has a variety of projects, which you can get involved in.

University of Oregon students decided that one day wasn’t enough to celebrate Mother Earth and has held a weeks worth of volunteer opportunities ranging from working with food for lane county to removing invasive ivy. 

There are many ways you can volunteer your time, not just around the University of Oregon campus, but also all over Eugene. 

No matter how small your contribution, these volunteer events are a wonderful opportunity to interact with your fellow community members as well as making a positive impact on the environment.

Check out this link for more details how you can help: http://serve.uoregon.edu/Students/EarthDayProjects.aspx

Bryan Stevenson TED Talk

Check out the link to this TED talk from Bryan Stevenson, the founder of Equality Justice Initiative, who is fighting on behalf of kids sentenced to life in prison.  He touches on important subjects facing Americans regarding race and the justice system.

by Alyssa Nickles

Yesterday Peter Laufer and Julianne Newton from the School of Journalism and Communication led an Intercultural Conversation entitled Perceptions of Islam and the Media. During the conversation, University faculty and students discussed the influence the media has on the public perception of Islam in the United States.

The conversation opened with a clip from the Colbert Report, which created satire of a poll that suggested President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Following the clip, Professor Newton posed the question: Why is the American public under the impression that it would be bad to have a Muslim president?  The answer lies in the media’s presentation of Islam.

Professor Laufer suggested America’s hostile opinion of Muslims can be attributed to right-wing media outlets, such as FOX News and The Glenn Beck Program.  Shows like these that are more invested in presenting distorted facts for entertainment value, than providing legitimate news have charged an anti-Islamic trend throughout the country. Most notable of this movement was the highly publicized “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

In an age where media’s messages are constantly contradicting one another, how can you filter out the truth from the falsities? Professor Newton offered one solution—media literacy.  Media literacy entails deeply analyzing the messages a medium is sending. To do so, one must look deeper than face value and take into account who is writing, presenting, funding, and producing these messages, all while considering the principle market for the messages.

The Intercultural Conversation helped me realize the importance of challenging the idea that news is truth and factual. Failure to do so will have dire repercussions, as the public will digest these inaccurate messages and spread their ignorance and lies.  Members of the Muslim community have already fallen victims of this pattern. Only through media literacy will the American public be able to combat the widespread hostility towards the Islamic culture.

Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) has recently uncovered a massive sex trafficking ring containing 20,000 to 40,000 under age girls. The girls were held in hundreds of brothels across Mali, all under complete control of Nigerian women.

According to Nigerian authorities, the girls were lured from their homes under the impression they would be working in Europe. Upon arrival in Mali, the girls were told they would be held as prostitutes until they could pay off their debt. Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of NAPTIP reported that the girls were “held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices” in the brothels.

These brothels were mainly located around Nigeria’s capital, Bamako, and in mining towns such as Kaynes and Mopti. Many of them had abortion clinics, forcing the girls into pregnancy termination procedures against their will.

Today, sex trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. There are an estimated 600,000 to 820,000 men, women, and children trafficked across international borders annually. Of the 27 million people currently held as slaves, eighty-five percent of them will be sold as sex slaves.

While men mainly control this lucrative industry, in this case, women were in control. Although NAPTIP is currently working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria, the cycle will undoubtedly continue as Nigeria has become a hotspot for prostitution, with thousands of women and girls entering the industry to make money as sex workers.

As human trafficking remains a global issue, the looming question is why countries haven’t taken more aggressive actions to address the problem. Why haven’t governments or intergovernmental organizations done more to raise awareness of the issue, protect trafficking victims, and prosecute exploiters?

Check out the following sites for more information on the international sex trade:




A cursory look at recent news stories concerning Islam suggests that there is not so much a media discussion of Islam as there is a discussion of “radical Islam” or “Islamic fundamentalism.”  For instance, NPR’s recent story on the growing influence of radical Islam in the Balkans, and its series “Going Radical,” which investigates how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the “Christmas Day bombing” suspect, became a would-be terrorist, reinforce the association of terrorism with Islam, as did the much publicized “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

What perceptions of Islam do these stories promote?  Do such stories reflect the values and experiences of the Muslims who read/listen to them?  Do they create a sense of isolation and discrimination among a significant and valuable portion of our community?

While such news stories may bring attention to issues that are of genuine societal concern, at what point do they cease to inspire thoughtful inquiry and begin to construct a superficial, monolithic and skewed image of Islam and Muslims?  Are there enough images and narratives in the media that counterbalance these negative portrayals and make the discussion of “Who is a Muslim?” and “What is Islam?” a truly multi-vocal conversation?

In the recent film Mooz-lum, filmmaker Qasim Basir provides a depiction of Islam and Muslims that is an alternative to those often represented by the media.  In an interview with Michel Martin, Basir explains what compelled him to make this film:

“…I was a little tired of seeing the consistent negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media. And being that I was raised very different than what’s represented as what Islam or Muslims are supposed to be, I had to write something about it that showed the human perspective of a people, of a culture, of faith.”

Another film that draws attention to the ways in which Islam is portrayed in Western media is the documentary Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, directed by Sut Jhally and featuring Dr. Jack Shaheen.  While this film specifically addresses depictions of Arabs and Arab culture, it also gives consideration to prevalent negative portrayals of Islam.

While there are numerous news stories featuring radical Islam and terrorism in association with Islam, major media outlets, such as ABC news, have also attempted to provide some balance to the discourse concerning Islam.  In a special edition of 20/20, Diane Sawyer reports on Islam in America and the common questions and misconceptions that some Americans have about the religion. On another ABC news segment, a hidden camera experiment caught bystanders’ reactions to a Muslim woman being denied service, bringing light to everyday discriminatory acts against Muslims and asking, among other things, how perceptions of Islam and Muslims influence interactions between individuals.

Considering these different types of news stories and representations of Islam in the media, the question arises, does the media have a responsibility to educate the public about religion? If so, how might it best go about accomplishing this?  And if not, what is the media’s primary responsibility?


Additional Readings:

The Portrayal of Islam by the Western Media

A Muslim Women’s Forum on Representation in the Media

Responsible Education and Media, Non-Profit

With over two million citizens incarcerated in the United States, this population is a demographic with its own unique issues and challenges that we literally cannot afford to ignore.  The exponential increase in the prison population is causing a trend (on both a state and national level) to increase Department of Corrections and prison sector spending.  Consequently, this is causing a drain on resources that could be going to support public education, community development, and social service programming.  Funds within Department of Corrections are also being re-allocated away from educational and vocational type programs towards prison expansions and constructions.

But why is this important?   As convicted criminals, haven’t these people given up their ‘right’ to an education?  As a culture that loves to be “tough on crime”, why would we put money towards the personal growth of incarcerated peoples?  That money should be spent on the betterment and increased safety of our communities.  The (perhaps unexpected) truth is that ultimately, education money for incarcerated peoples does make our communities safer.  And drastically so, at that.

For a society claiming to be “tough on crime” our end goal should ideally be overall decreases in both the crime and incarceration rates.  There is a faction of American society that believes the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” attitude achieves this goal; that’s just simply not how our system works. The majority of incarcerated men and women will not serve their full sentence.  The majority (93% in the state of Oregon) will find themselves back in the communities and circumstances in which they committed the crime.  The majority—over 60%–will reoffend and find themselves back in prison.

With nearly two-thirds of ex-offenders finding themselves re-incarcerated, this does not point to great successes with current prison-management practices.  Nor, with an appallingly high recidivism rate and overflowing prisons, does it indicate we are a society that is “tough on crime”.  Taking steps to effectively lower the recidivism rate would, in turn, create safer communities.  For more than two decades (1970’s-mid 1990’s) recidivism rates associated with participation in college-in-prison programs were below 15%.  After the retraction of Pell Grants for prisoners in the mid-1990’s, college programs in prisons effectively disappeared, and the recidivism rate sky-rocketed once again.

The most important part of being “tough on crime” is addressing the needs of the main player: the ‘criminal’.  Educational and vocational training programs while in prison develop skills necessary for life in society.  Support services for the re-entry process—finding a job and housing, addiction therapy plans, and positive community involvement—are also essential for adjusting to life outside of prison.  So much of our society’s energy is placed on putting people behind bars; so little of it is addressed to what will happen when that person is no longer there.  Eventually, many people serving a prison sentence will come back into our communities, having either a positive or negative impact.  The negative (or positive) experiences had in prison will ultimately drive many of the actions taken upon return to our communities…just one of the compelling reasons why the outside community should have an invested interest in what happens in the one on the inside.  But, once society commits itself to this cause, what would be the most effective way to create change?  Will more be accomplished through a grassroots-style, community based undertaking?  Or will it require a broader, top-down, institutional policy?

Check out the links below for more information on educational and vocational opportunities for at-risk or incarcerated populations.




According to the 2009 Global Peace Index, the United States ranks 83 out of 144 countries in the world.  Why is this alarming ranking talked about so little?  What sort of political, social and cultural factors contribute to this position, and how can they be changed?

For the U.S., the most significant contributing factor to this ranking is our high incarceration rates; with less than five percent of the world’s population, the United States holds almost a quarter of the world’s prisoners.  Criminal justice policies and practices have only aggravated the problem, as the number of jail and prison inmates in the United States has risen 274 percent in the past quarter century.  This silent migration of our own citizens from our communities to locked and monitored institutions is causing substantial social, economic, and cultural strains.  As a key step of progressing towards peace, we must address the realities of issues within the prison system.

Although incarceration is often presented through a ‘restorative’ lens as a time for growth and reflection, restorative justice practices and rehabilitative education are greatly lacking in the U.S. Prison system.  Lacking, but not absent.  In the field of restorative justice, there are several inspiring projects happening in prisons around the country.  Prison garden projects from Washington, Chicago, New York, and many places in between are connecting incarcerated individuals with nature, teaching marketable trade skills, providing produce to local food banks and hospitals, and reducing recidivism rates.  The Insight Prison Project in California offers a variety of educational and rehabilitative classes focused on community building, public safety, and, again, reducing recidivism.  The restorative justice movement is gaining momentum across the country, but has yet to come anywhere near fulfilling its potential in healing individuals, families, and communities whose lives have been fractured by crime and incarceration.

To reach this potential, we, as a society, must continue the dialogue about restorative justice and prison reform.  We must look critically at our laws and social practices and consider their implications; as well as look at current professional practices within the system, their successes, and opportunities for constant improvement and increased compassion towards our fellow community members, incarcerated or not.

For more information about the programs mentioned in this post, see the links below.





by Madeline Bailey

Those opposed to harsh sentencing and the criminal “warehousing” of United States prisons rejoiced on May 17th  when the Supreme Court took a step to reduce extreme policies of punishment.

It was ruled that juveniles can no longer be sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes other than homicide.   The case of Graham v. Florida decided that the court must provide young offenders with some opportunity for hope and reform. This is a welcome retreat from punishment without the possibility for reconciliation and rehabilitation. Read the rest of this entry »

by Madeline Bailey

Last week, NPR featured the story of Raymond Towler, a 52-year-old man who was released from prison on May 4th after spending nearly 30 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.  After being sentenced to life imprisonment in 1981, Towler waited faithfully for justice. Thanks to the Ohio Innocence Project and their work to obtain DNA testing, he was finally proven innocent –29 years too late. Read the rest of this entry »

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